Photo Credit: Sports News
The story of Argentina’s number 10 winning his first World Cup
Nidhil Vohra, Sports Editor
The mesmerizing and tantalizing world of sport is unparalleled in its history, culture, and tradition. It is a world built on emotion and vitalized by stories, but the latter is what draws us in. Stories are lived on fields, on television screens, and in radio broadcasts, by everyone and anyone. Tears spilled are spilled together and laughter echoes as one. These stories aren’t simply taught, read, or passed down generationally, but recalled with childhood friends over Sunday brunch or reminisced through a newspaper clipping that has turned yellow. A little over a month ago, we were blessed with another such story.
Gonzalo Montiel steps up to the penalty spot in what could prove to be the most pivotal kick of his lifetime. He steps back from the ball resting on the penalty spot and breathes in the volatile atmosphere of the Lusail Stadium, noting the importance of his penalty kick for the nation of 45 million people who are praying in an unparalleled unison. A quick run-up. A soft kick of the football. The French goalkeeper dives to his left. The ball passes him by on his right. The world erupts. Argentina are champions of world football, and the final game of the World Cup is perhaps the greatest story the sport of football has ever told.
The lead up to the final game of the World Cup was steaming with debates: Messi or Mbappe, Copa America winners or the reigning champions, La Albiceleste or Les Bleus. Arguments were made and rebuttals were ignored. In the midst of statistics, theories, and an eventful third place playoffs game, everyone was in anticipation of December 18, 2022. Would their arguments hold up?
Lionel Messi’s Argentina made the first move when he slotted home a 23rd minute penalty to give Argentina a lead against the 2018 World Cup Winners. Ángel Di Marïa joined his ex-PSG teammate on the scoresheet when he put one past Hugo Lloris in the 36th minute after a fluid one-touch counterattack by the Argentines. It looked all but over for the French. TVs were close to being turned off. Couches were being vacated. Superstitions were being forgotten when the referee blew for a French penalty in the 80th minute. Kylian Mbappe had a chance to get his country back in the game. He stepped up to the ball with the poise of a leader, unphased by the weight of the moment, and put his penalty past Emiliano Martínez, the Argentine goalkeeper. 2-1, the game resumed. A little over a minute of football being played, 2-2. Kylian Mbappe had done it again. A quick one-two with Marcus Thuram and the Frenchman propelled himself behind the Argentine defence to fire a rocket into the opposition’s goal. Messi looked on. He’d lost possession for the second French goal. He’d lost possession for the goal that tipped the scales in France’s favour.
At the risk of this piece being a recap of the entire game, the 40 minutes of football succeeding the second French goal were arguably the beautiful game in all its glory, end to end counter attacking football with no one ready to back down. A Messi goal, a Mbappe penalty, and a Martinez magical save later, the game was down to penalty kicks, which ended with Gonzalo Montiel scoring the final goal of the game to win Argentina their third World Cup and Lionel Messi his first.
The man who has been one of the best players in the world for close to two decades finally had his hands on the only trophy that had ever eluded him, with a performance for the ages in the final. Two goals and an attitude that almost single handedly defied the French. For 19 years, like words off a page, he had danced through defenders that may as well have been mannequins – training cones put in place to try and discourage him off the ball. He’d won every trophy that he could get his hands on and now he had the one he’d most desired, a World Cup final where we witnessed the passing of the torch. Messi went blow for blow against Mbappe, one in a quest to cement his place as the greatest of all time and one with a performance worthy of a seat at the table.
The 2022 World Cup final will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest sporting events in history. Yet, it is Lionel Messi’s story of winning a World Cup for his country after coming excruciatingly close in 2014 that will be told through the ages. Such a story will be remembered when friends meet over Sunday brunch and when an aging grandfather rests in his squeaking armchair and his grandson asks him, “Who is the greatest football player of all time?”